How to Host a Stress-Free Holiday Meal

Updated 11/5/18

The holiday season is my favorite time of year, but it can be really stressful if you’re hosting dinner. Getting all the food ready to serve while it’s still hot and making sure all your guests are comfortable while doing it… that’s a daunting task! Over the past several years of hosting holiday meals, I’ve learned a few tricks to make the process go more smoothly. I can serve a delicious meal AND enjoy myself!

6 steps to help you plan a stress-free holiday meal so you can actually enjoy your day.

1 | Plan your menu in advance

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a step I’ve glossed over in the past. Sure, I knew we were eating turkey for Thanksgiving, but I didn’t think through all the sides ahead of time. Instead of shopping sales or prepping food ahead of time, I was left doing everything at the last minute. Planning the menu for your holiday meal allows you to save money, time, and stress.

2 | Delegate responsibilities

Just because you’re the hostess, that doesn’t mean you have to do everything. Once you plan your menu, ask guests to bring side dishes that can be reheated before dinner. Desserts and appetizers are a great option if you really like to have control over the menu. I’m not super confident about making gravy so I always put my dad in charge of that task.

If you have a large group, be specific about what they should bring so you don’t end up with repeat dishes. It’s not hard (or unreasonable) to send an email asking guests to tell everyone what they plan to bring.

Give your kids cleaning duties. Even younger ones can help unload the dishwasher or run a vacuum before guests arrive. I’m not super confident about making gravy so I put my dad in charge of that task.

3 | Prepare food ahead of time

Many side dishes can be prepared ahead of time and reheated prior to dinner without affecting the quality. Potatoes, stuffing, rolls and desserts can all be made a couple days ahead.

Be sure to account for reheating time to ensure you have room in your oven. Vegetable sides should usually be made the day of, but you can still wash and cut your veggies earlier in the day.

4 | Make a timetable for day-of cooking

Write out your full menu, noting the oven temperature and cooking time needed for every dish. Figure out which items will fit in the oven and can be cooked at the same temperature.

Then, counting backwards from the time you plan to sit down to dinner, determine when each item needs to go in the oven. With this masterplan in hand, you won’t need to worry about dishes not being ready in time or sitting out until they’re cold.

5 | Set your table the day before

Iron your tablecloth and napkins. Lay out place settings and your table decor or centerpiece. Set up extra tables and chairs if necessary. By doing these tasks the day before, you’re freeing up your time on the big day for cooking and spending time with guests.

If you need to use your table the day before a gathering, delegate as many of  these tasks as possible to family members. You can find some beautiful inspiration for your Thanksgiving table decor HERE.

6 | Plan outfits & lay them out the night before

If your holiday gathering is completely casual, you can skip this step. If you have a more formal celebration to attend or certain outfits in mind for your family, save your time and sanity by laying out these items in advance.

Prepping ahead not only ensures that clothing is definitely clean and presentable, it also eliminates the time spent picking out clothes or debating choices with a child (not that this would ever happen in my house lol.)

What are your tips for a stress-free holiday meal?

Five tips for a stress-free holiday meal.
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10 Days of Advent: Days Nine & Ten

Merry Christmas! You can check out all the previous Advent activities here. The holiday season has been a lot of fun for our family. We have some great activities planned with friends and family for the days leading up to Christmas.

Go Caroling

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” You may not be a fan of Buddy the Elf, but you can’t beat singing carols to bring out the Christmas spirit. One of our wonderful neighbors planned a progressive dinner to celebrate the season in the neighborhood. We went to the homes of five different families and caroled a little in between. One of the neighbor dads is in a band and helped lead all our little merry-makers in song. The kids absolutely loved it and the neighbors enjoyed hearing our joyful little singers.

Bring the message of Advent home this holiday season. Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas as a family.

Read the original Christmas story

Amidst all the excitement over presents and Santa, we don’t want to forget the reason we’re celebrating. By reading the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth, it brings the focus back to the miracle of Christmas. We’ve spent the past month immersed in festivity. Now it’s important to remember that Jesus is the true gift. When we go back to the original story, we rekindle the joy of knowing that there’s more to this season than drinking hot chocolate and admiring twinkle lights. Take time to remember why we celebrate at all and what a wonderful gift that is for us.

Bring the message of Advent home this holiday season. Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas as a family.

I hope you had a truly magical Advent season!

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10 Days of Advent: Day Eight

It’s day eight of my ten days of Advent series and Christmas is practically here! If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, you can check them out here. As the countdown winds down, family is starting to arrive and there’s less to check off of your to-do list (hopefully.) Take the opportunity to spend extra time with visitors and have some fun with a family game night.

More and more, pop culture is making games out to be something that require a screen. While those can certainly be fun, to me, it doesn’t compare to an old-school game played with a group. Scattegories, Catch Phrase and plain old Charades are a blast with a good group. Not only is it fun, but it’s a great way to keep guests entertained. There are plenty of options that can be played when multiple age groups are involved. Hedbanz is one of our personal favorites to play when our youngest is included.

Bring the message of Advent home this holiday season. Celebrate Christmas as a family with a fun family game night.

Enjoy some time together with a few fun games and some delicious treats! It’s a great way to celebrate the coming of Christmas and the gift of family and friends.

*This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure statement here.

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10 Days of Advent: Day Six

It’s day six of our 10 Days of Advent series! I caught a nasty cold and have been less than productive the past two days. Today’s post will be short and sweet. One of the best parts of the holiday season is all the fun things we get to do as a family. We try to mix in plenty of festivity without feeling like we’re just busy all the time.

Relax with your family with a favorite Christmas movie

Sometimes it’s really nice to slow down and relax as a family. Instead of being out with all the crowds, take a night to appreciate being at home. Warm up some hot chocolate, curl up on the couch, and watch one your favorite family Christmas movies. If you need some suggestions, check out this post for some of our faves. Don’t worry about all the stuff you’ve yet to do. Snuggle with your little ones and enjoy some downtime.

Bring the message of Advent home this holiday season. Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas as a family.

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10 Days of Advent: Day Five

The days are going by quickly now (obviously too quickly since I’m posting so late!) I don’t know about your house, but the anticipation seems to be growing by the hour. You can go back to day one to read about why I’m sharing ten days of Advent ideas, as well as catch up on any days you missed. It’s all about focusing on the reason for the season and spending time together with our loved ones during the holidays.

Bring the message of Advent home this holiday season. Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas as a family.

While most of us are enjoying the holidays with our family members, there are countless others giving up their day. Fire fighters, police officers, nurses & doctors, and EMTs are all working on the holidays to make sure the rest of us are safe. This season, let’s take time to say thank you.

Thank a civil servant

It takes hardly any time to drop off some cookies or brownies at your local fire or police station, but what a nice way to show our appreciation to those who help to keep us safe each day. If your budget is extra tight this Christmas, a handmade card is an equally nice way to say thanks. You could bring some holiday treats to your local ER, or even just send a note of gratitude to someone you know will be giving up their holiday.

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